Losing My Racist Ear

“Oh my God, you have a racist ear!”

A colleague and I were sitting in a coffee shop. This was before my cochlear implant a few months ago when my hearing disability was really at its peak.  My work as a consultant puts me one on one and in groups with a lot of different people, including Black men.

I’d just told her that I had incredible difficulty hearing most Black men. Other men were often problems as well but not as bad as Black men.

It was funny and not.

Now that I have the cochlear implant, I hear everyone better, including, I think, Black men, although I’ve got to have more experience to testify. The notion of a racist ear persists, though, because I think I still have it even if my hearing is a lot better.

I think I hear everything through a race filter. I think I see everything through a race filter. In the same way that I am always conscious when talking to someone that they’re male or female, that identity overarching and defining everything they say and do, I am always conscious of someone being Black. I am never not conscious or aware. It doesn’t worry me or bother me. I don’t feel superior or inferior. I’m not frightened or anxious in any way. I’m just constantly conscious.

I’d like to lose the constant consciousness of race. I think it makes me guarded and careful. It means that I don’t relax. I guess it means I’m not myself. It’s a barrier between me and other people. It makes me wonder why I am so wary. What do I think is going to happen?

There has to be something that fuels my race consciousness, that tells me to keep my guard up. Something that has outlasted a lifetime of working with Black people, being friends with Black people, being welcomed and treated well by Black people. What is that tiny, mean nugget?

Is it genetic?

Is it cultural?

Is it an unhappy family heirloom, a secret gift slipped into my suitcase when I left my parents’ home?

If it came down a line of my ancestors, have I passed it on? Am I a link in an endless chain of people who do their best but just can’t get past race?

I don’t know. That’s my answer. I don’t know.

But at least I’m asking. It’s something. It’s a start.





4 Comments on “Losing My Racist Ear

  1. I decided a while back that I would always view the world through the lens of race, and that was a good thing. Otherwise, with the way I was raised, I could easily act in a racist way without being aware of it. On the other hand, when someone asks me about the racial makeup of the writing group of men and women experiencing homelessness that I facilitate, I have to pause and think about it. I can tell you immediately who was good at dialogue, who loved the important detail, who had flights of imagination. But I have to stop and put them into the race box.

  2. You’ve expressed quite well how I feel. It’s because we are sensitive to the feelings of others. We are constantly doing this metacgnitive thing that impacts our perceptions.

  3. Good sharing. Good thought processing. Good progress. Thanks for sharing! I think it’s a bit of culture and tone level. I have trouble hearing and understanding different people at different times. Often by phone. Sometimes in person. Some have different accents. Some do not.

  4. Oh, that race consciousness. It infuriates me. Since I moved to a place where I my race is the minority, or close, so many of my ingrained notions and beliefs have shifted away from fear and suspicion. But race consciousness hasn’t budged. I’ve noticed I also have a similar gender consciousness, which is just as useless a thing to home in on. After all, what does it matter to me whether someone is male, female, fluid, or whatever, and even less how they express themselves sexually? I’m not in the market.What a gift it would be just to see person, and as Quakers say, that of God in them.

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